CEDAR RAPIDS — Fresh off battling back the second worst flood in city history, Cedar Rapids officials are celebrating the start of a major piece of flood protection for the old Sinclair meatpacking site and the New Bohemia District.
The Sinclair levee, when finished next fall, would protect up to a 20-foot river elevation, city officials said Tuesday during a groundbreaking celebration for the $14 million project.
“I’m just glad to see something starting,” said Steve Shriver, co-owner of Brewhemia, 1202 Third St. SE, which was in the flood evacuation zone. “And, I’m glad to see it starting in NewBo. 2016 was a great eye opener to everyone, It showed how important this district is to the community.”
The Sinclair levee project includes a half-mile levee and flood wall from the African American Museum of Iowa near 12th Avenue SE to the Alliant Energy substation, a pump station and 4.4-acre water detention basin. Construction begins this month with completion in November 2017.
The system aims to prevent water inundation from underground pipes, water backing into the district from downstream, and it includes businesses along 16th Avenue SE left out of the temporary flood system erected in a flurry last month. All were problems, although, by-and-large, the city suffered minimal damage as the Cedar River crested just below 22 feet on Tuesday, Sept. 27.
“This will offer immediate protection of the low lying NewBo and Sinclair sites,” City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said at an afternoon news conference on Tuesday.
If the river crests again above 20 feet, even if the new Sinclair levee is complete, additional sand-filled HESCO barriers would still be needed. However, upon completion of the entire $625 million flood control system, which is designed to protect the east and west banks of the Cedar River, the Sinclair levee is to be able to handle the 2008 flood level when the river reached 31 feet.
The city does not have a financing plan yet for the full flood system.
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Of the total cost for the Sinclair levee project, $11.3 million comes from federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds appropriated through the state economic development office. The money had been slotted for protection near Quaker Oats, but the city shifted gears to the lowest lying areas first, including NewBo and soon Czech Village.
“This levels the playing field,” said Rob Davis, the city flood control system manager. “This protects to 20 feet, which is what the rest of the east side is built to.”
The levee portion of the system is to be 13-feet tall and three times as wide at the base with a 12-foot wide recreation trail on top. The trail is designed to accommodate a proposed pedestrian bridge referred to as the Sleeping Giant. As part of another future project, three or four park areas are planned on the wet side of the permanent flood wall with monuments and ornamental stones, including for Osborne Park, Kuba Plaza, Masaryk Park and a Sinclair commemorative rock.
“We recognize the river as an amenity, and the protection system is complimentary of the surrounding neighborhood,” Pomeranz said. “People can enjoy the measures when they are not being tested.”
The barrier is to have a gap at 16th Avenue SE until a gate structure is added sometime in the future. Temporary sand-filled barriers would plug the gap if necessary in the meantime.
The pump station is designed to pump 2,500 gallons of water per minute, and shut off would close stormwater drains to prevent backflow from the river. The adjacent detention basin would store up to 4 feet of stormwater until it can be pumped back to the river.
“This is incredible,” said Steve Waller, 59, who lives in NewBo. “This is what we’ve been wanting and this is what we needed. It’s a shame it’s a year late, but it’ll be earlier than the next flood.”
The Sinclair levee is being paid for in three phases, although all should be complete around the same time next November.
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The levee and flood wall component was approved in August. City Council, during a meeting earlier on Tuesday, approved plans for a $5.7 million contract for the pump station and detention basin as part of the Sinclair levee system. The city plans to award a contract by Oct. 26.
The third phase is to tackle environmental remediation on the Sinclair site, which is a mostly leveled old industrial site. The remediation of old foundation and asbestos allows the expansion of the detention basin possibly to eight or nine acres, Davis said.
Once the system is complete it could open up about 10 acres, which has already caught the eye of some developers.
“Now we can concentrate on future development and the wonderful opportunity that the Sinclair site will provide for our community,” said Dale Todd, president of the Southside Investment Board.
City leaders are also planning another $6 million, 12,000-gallons-per-minute pump station near 10th Avenue SE along the river, bringing the total investment to protect NewBo to $20 million. The second pump station is due for completion in 2018.
Also Tuesday, city leaders held a public hearing for a $4 million utility relocation project in Czech Village. That project is a needed preliminary step before a levee is installed to protect Czech Village from flooding.